Monday, January 13, 2014

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon


“The past, hey no shit, it’s an open invitation to wine abuse.”
- Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon, page 20.

I am a Thomas Pynchon fan, and I appreciate the fact that for some people Pynchon’s books are an acquired taste. I cultivated my taste for Pynchon’s prose over twenty-five years ago when I read The Crying of Lot 49 for the first time. That novel is perhaps his best known, but far from my favorite. I would have to rate Against the Day as my all time favorite, although V and Gravity’s Rainbow are not far behind. Come to think of it, I also like Inherent Vice and Vineland.

Too much is made by the media about Pynchon’s reclusive habits and desire to avoid being photographed. I say allow the man his privacy and just deal with the books. So today I am dealing with Bleeding Edge. As I mentioned, he has written some wonderful books, and what I find fascinating is the clever way that he offers up different styles. Books such as Inherent Vice and Vineland are cultural satires (perhaps all of his work can be categorized as satire) and Bleeding Edge easily falls into the same category. But Pynchon can easily switch to a pulp style adventure novelist, mystery writer and religious philosopher. This is obviously intentional. All of these elements are evident in Bleeding Edge, but not as pronounced as in works like Against the Day.

Bleeding Edge is a full blown satire and edgy history of the Dotcom era preceding the tragic events of 9-11. Maxine Tarnow runs a fraud investigation business on New York’s Upper West Side. She carries a Beretta and does business with sleazebags to pay the rent.  She’s a working mom with two little boys and a purse full of both sarcasm and ammo. When she begins looking into the finances of a computer-security firm, life gets complicated. Pynchon is a master at using the proverbial “red herring” so you really have no clue as to who the real bad guys are. I don’t think it matters. This is satire as High Farce, and as such it makes for a scathing look at modern life. That, I believe, is the point. Satire is really social commentary disguised as fiction.

The writing is crisp and fresh, so much so, that I often found myself re-reading such descriptive gems as this one: “The bio on his web site refers vaguely to Himalayan wanderings and political exile, but despite claims to an ancient wisdom beyond earthly limits, a five-minute investigation reveals Shawn’s only known journey to the east to’ve been by Greyhound, from his native Southern California, to New York, and not that many years ago. A Leuzinger high school dropout and compulsive surfer, who has taken a certain amount of board-inflicted head trauma while setting records at several beaches for wipeouts in a season.” (p.30) That’s Pynchon’s special touch, and I find it joyful to read.

Thomas Pynchon’s books may be an acquired taste, but so is Guinness Stout. Nothing is normal, and what we perceive as normal is as zany as we make it. As a culture, we have certainly gone to great lengths to make this is a zany world. That can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint. Bleeding Edge is the secret book all of the literati have in their rucksacks this season. I like it. Now pour me another Guinness.

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